Writing 201: Poetry Potluck

As I mentioned, the weekend assignment for this course is to post a favourite piece of poetry.  I tend to have favourite poets/authors/directors/whatever rather than favourite pieces, which turned this into a challenge of selecting something that I felt best represented that person and why I enjoy their work (in this case Robert Burns), and that would be a good introduction for anyone not too familiar with them (outside of pieces like Auld Lang Syne or Address to a Haggis that many have heard of if not read or heard recited).

Burns is (or was) fairly local to where I grew up, although the biggest draw for me is the sense of humour and talent for satire that comes through in many of his works, a great example of which I’ll be presenting in a moment.  Since I grew up in the area, the language was never an issue, but many of his poems and songs use Lallans (Scots or a dialect of Scots depending on who you ask) words and phrases, which can be tricky for newcomers to decipher.  I’ve picked a poem that uses a minimum of the more obscure of these, but feel free to ask if you’re unsure.  Generally, pronunciation is as written.

With all that said, here is Holy Willie’s Prayer, which satirizes religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness, with particular regard to Calvinism and the doctrine of predestination, using people who Burns knew at the time.  It takes the form of a nightly prayer, spoken by someone Burns saw as a hypocrite for condemning others for sins he himself was guilty of.  It also uses a verse form Burns used a lot, the Habbie stanza, which has a aaabab rhyming scheme.  This can sometimes help with pronunciation.

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends aen to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an’ grace
A burning and a shining light
To a’ this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I wha deserv’d most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years ‘ere my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause.

When from my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung’d me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar o’ Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a’ Thy flock.

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an’ swearers swear,
An’ singing here, an’ dancin there,
Wi’ great and sma’;
For I am keepit by Thy fear
Free frae them a’.

But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust:
An’ sometimes, too, in worldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defil’d wi’ sin.

O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi’ Meg
Thy pardon I sincerely beg;
O may’t ne’er be a livin’ plague
To my dishonour,
An’ I’ll ne’er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.

Besides, I farther maun avow,
Wi’ Leezie’s lass, three times I trow –
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I cam near her;
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true
Wad never steer her.

Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn
Buffet Thy servant e’en and morn,
Lest he owre proud and high shou’d turn,
That he’s sae gifted:
If sae, Thy han’ maun e’en be borne,
Until Thou lift it.

Lord, bless Thy chosen in this place,
For here Thou has a chosen race!
But God confound there stuborn face,
An’ blast their name,
Wha brings Thy elders to disgrace
An’ open shame.

Lord, mind Gaw’n Hamilton’s deserts;
He drinks, an’ swears, an’ plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony takin arts,
Wi’ great an’ sma’,
Frae God’s ain priest the people’s hearts
He steals awa’.

And when we chasten’d him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
And set the world in a roar
O’ laughing at us;
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
Kail an’ potatoes.

Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray’r,
Against that Presbyt’ry o’ Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord mak it bare
Upo’ their heads;
Lord visit them, an’ dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God! that glib-tongu’d Aitken,
My vera heart an’ flesh are quakin,
To think how we stood sweatin, shakin,
An’ pish’d wi’ dread,
While he, wi’ hingin lip an’ snakin,
Held up his head.

Lord, in Thy day o’ vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their pray’r,
But for Thy people’s sake destroy them,
An’ dinna spare.

But, Lord, remember me an’ mine
Wi’ mercies temporal and divine,
That I for grace an’ gear may shine,
Excell’d by nane,
And a’ the glory shall be Thine,
Amen, Amen!

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